Annual Rose Roundup

As the sheer number of notes in this article will attest, there are more roses than ever before available to American wine lovers, and most of the ones I tried this year rise well above the level of seasonal quaffers.  But not all of them--especially those from the New World.  With the increased demand for these wines, which kicked off six or seven years ago, almost every red wine producer in the world, it would seem, has jumped on the bandwagon and now has a pink or pinkish wine in their stable.  The problem is that a number of those wines are being made from varieties that, frankly, produce roses that are richer and heavier than what most wine drinkers expect from the category.

Roses are mostly made in two ways, and the differing results can be extreme.  The traditional method, which dominates in Provence, calls for slowly pressing red grapes, often whole clusters, and collecting the juice just as it begins to pick up pigmentation from the skins (almost all red grapes produce white juice), then fermenting it, usually in stainless steel tanks, concrete or neutral wooden vessels.  These are usually pale in color and on the delicate side, with an emphasis on citrus, floral and mineral character.  Such wines are great alternatives to whites when strongly seasoned food, especially fish, is being served, particularly dishes with herb and spice accents.

The second way is to press the red grapes as one normally would to make a red wine, putting it into tanks and then draining off a measure of the macerating juice before it starts to ferment and take on too dark a color.  This is commonly referred to as saignee, which literally means "bleeding" the tank.  Since a wine's color is derived from its skins, the brief maceration of the unfermented juice with the grape solids typically results in wines that are considerably darker than roses made with directly pressed grapes.  In addition, this technique results in wines with darker fruit character, more tannins and more power; they're more like red wines. 

What's been happening lately is that producers who specialize in making powerful red wines from varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah are able to work two sides of the fence:  by draining off juice, they get to make a rose, and by decreasing the liquid in their tanks they are increasing the skin to juice ratio of their red wines, thus jacking up their concentration.  That may be good for producing a blockbuster red wine but, to me, it makes for roses that are often inelegant, heavy and coarse.  These wines can even stand in for red wines, which can be useful in the summer with burgers or steaks, but too often they lack the energy, delicacy and sheer drinkability that I crave in rose. 

Since most roses are bottled in clear or nearly clear glass it should be easy to tell what type you're getting, and it also helps to know some general rules.  If you're after a delicate, racy style, look for pale pink or orange, onion skin or peach skin colors, and for versions made from pinot noir, cinsault and carignane, such as those from Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Provence.  The darker renditions are usually made by producers in areas not usually associated with pink wine, like most of Australia, Bordeaux and most of California.  These tend to be the heavier and more powerful versions that are better served with food than by themselves.

Contrary to longstanding cliche, the best roses do not need to be drunk up by Labor Day, or even Columbus Day.  Not even by Thanksgiving.  Anybody who has had the chance to drink a well-stored Bandol, Cotes de Provence, Marsannay or Sancerre rose with a couple years of bottle age will vouch for how smoothly they mature.  In exchange for some raciness and bite you'll often be repaid with a silkier and more aromatically complex wine that can be served as you would a serious white wine.  I've been lucky enough to drink a number of aged Sancerre and Bandol roses (as in over a decade old) that were excellent by any measure, so don't freak out if a few orphans from this summer's stock pop up come fall or even next summer.

Because of the sheer volume of high quality roses that I tasted this year, we are listing those that scored 88 points or higher.